AUCKLAND Auckland Blues flyhalf Ihaia West scored a brilliant 75th minute try to consign the British and Irish Lions to a 22-16 loss in the second game of their 10-match tour of New Zealand at Eden Park on Wednesday.
The Lions put in a much-improved better performance than in their opening victory over the semi-professionals of the Provincial Barbarians last Saturday but it was all undone by a few moments of magic from two All Blacks and a replacement back.
Just as the tourists looked to have seized the momentum with a 16-15 lead over the Super Rugby side, West put on the afterburners to race to the line after being set free by offloads from Steven Luatua and Sonny Bill Williams.
"Hugely disappointed, we came here to build on Saturday's performance, we got a good victory up in Whangarei, and we came here to get another win but unfortunately we've got a defeat, Lions captain Ken Owens said.
"All credit to the Blues, they took their chances, I think we're going to have to tidy up slightly on our discipline and be a little bit more clinical."
Winger Rieko Ioane and centre Williams also scored first half tries for the Blues, while starting flyhalf Stephen Perofeta added a conversion. West slotted a penalty and then converted his own try.
For the lions, number eight CJ Stander scored a try with fullback Leigh Halfpenny slotting the conversion and three penalties for the Lions, who next face the seven-times Super Rugby champion Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
"We've got to jump straight back on the horse, big game down in Christchurch on Saturday," Owen added.
"We need to get the tour back on track and build some more momentum."
The visitors had been heavily criticised for their stuttering 13-7 victory over the Barbarians in Whangarei and wanted to show greater urgency and better execution against the Blues.
For much of the game they showed they had taken the step up as their forwards were more in control of their possession and willing to build pressure, while their defence kept the Blues pinned in their own half and did not allow them to get wide.
The Blues, however, seized what opportunities they had, with Ioane's try coming after they stretched the Lions across the field, while Williams chased up a missed penalty and beat the defenders to the loose ball
That gave the hosts a surprise 12-10 lead at the break, which West extended with a penalty before the Lions replacements added some much needed impetus, especially at the scrum.
Despite a yellow card shown to winger Liam Williams, Halfpenny slotted two penalties to give them the 16-15 lead only for West to finish off the superb counter attack.
"That's why Steven and Sonny are All Blacks because they did something special and we know how quick Ihaia is off the bench," said Blues skipper James Parsons.
"It's pretty special ... it's something to hang our hat on."
The visitors still had the opportunity to seal victory with an attacking lineout in the final minute but replacement hooker Rory Best overthrew his targets and the Blues cleared.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)